DeMar DeRozan says he wants to stay — ‘The love is there’ — but should Bulls re-sign the veteran?

CHICAGO — DeMar DeRozan is a bit of a romantic. So when he talks about negotiating a contract extension this summer with the Chicago Bulls, he frames it from the perspective of love.

“It’s kind of like with your spouse,” DeRozan said. “It’s like: ‘What do we need to do to work on this, baby? Let’s figure this thing out. You want me. I want you.’ The love is there.”

Both DeRozan and the Bulls front office entered this season with a priority of reaching an extension agreement.

DeRozan has been steadfast in his desire to remain a Bull. And the message from executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas has always been the same: The Bulls value DeRozan highly and aim to keep him in Chicago for the long-term future.

“I love DeMar,” Karnišovas said in a news conference Thursday. “He’s huge for this team, this city and this organization. He has been great for our young guys. He’s been our closer. He’s wonderful for this team. Hopefully, when the time comes, we have a chance to keep him.”

But that desire to maintain DeRozan as a key part of the roster hasn’t translated into a new contract. Karnišovas allowed a major milestone to pass this week, choosing not to trade DeRozan at the deadline. That puts the decision in the hands of DeRozan, who could walk this summer as a free agent.

The Bulls clearly plan to offer DeRozan a new contract this summer. The main question is compensation. DeRozan will be eligible for a four-year, $179 million veteran maximum extension, but reports throughout the season have suggested the front office is unwilling to go that high.

The Bulls are following a familiar pattern with DeRozan’s extension timeline. Last season they took the same course with veteran center Nikola Vučević. After standing pat at the 2023 trade deadline, the Bulls signed Vučević in June to a three-year, $60 million contract that matched his desire to remain in Chicago on a long-term deal.

This is where the math begins to get tricky for the Bulls, who need to strike a balance between prioritizing young talent and veteran experience. They already are limited by Lonzo Ball’s contract while he remains injured — and could stay constricted by Zach LaVine’s contract if he continues to be untradable next season. Handing out another veteran extension to DeRozan would further complicate the salary-cap situation.

If they re-signed DeRozan for the maximum alongside Vučević’s existing contract, the Bulls would be committing to spending $65 million annually for the next two seasons on two players who turn 35 and 34, respectively, this year.

There are reasons to be cautious on DeRozan’s side as well. Compensation is key, but so is competitiveness. Many players of DeRozan’s caliber and age have made moves to teams they feel can compete for conference and league titles — after all, that’s the same desire that brought DeRozan to Chicago in 2021.

But DeRozan said he doesn’t want to run from the challenge in Chicago.

“Whatever cards you deal me, whatever you put me in front of, I always feel like there’s a way,” he said. “I know some days may be tougher. It may be easier to make a complaint or do what a lot of guys do in this league these days. That’s their motive. That’s them.

“My approach always has been that I’m willing to figure it out any way possible. I never try to run or complain when things get hard.”

DeRozan’s framing of his relationship with the Bulls as a couple on the verge of a breakup is apt. After all, sometimes love isn’t enough. Regardless of DeRozan’s feelings for the roster or the city, the Bulls could struggle to offer the two things any NBA veteran desires: ample compensation and a chance at a championship.

But before that conversation can take place, DeRozan has a more pressing priority — getting the Bulls back into the playoffs, which they narrowly missed last season with a loss in the play-in tournament to the Miami Heat.

So how will DeRozan respond to an Eastern Conference that only got stronger at the trade deadline?

“Bring it on,” he said. “Whatever it is. One thing about this group is we showed in a lot of games that we can compete and play against anybody. Sometimes the record doesn’t necessarily reflect it, but it’s all about coming together at the right time.”